Ad Saturation Means Recovery Has ‘Never Been Harder’ For Problem Gamblers

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You could call it the “Rule of Mom.”

If your mother brings up an issue related to sports betting, Colorado Speaker of the House Alec Garnett has found, it has probably reached a level of public consciousness that is worth noting.

That’s the case with a flood of sports betting advertisements in the state, specifically on television.

“When my mom is talking about it, that’s probably a good indication it might be getting to be too much,” said Garnett, who sponsored the 2019 measure that legalized sports betting in Colorado.

But it’s not a simple issue. When is too much really too much? Is it just an annoyance, or do the ads have other negative consequences? Do regulators really want to intervene in what could be viewed as a First Amendment speech issue? There are protections against deceptive or false advertising, but not on the topic of oversaturation.

“There’s not an easy answer,” Garnett acknowledged.

Ads’ impact on problem gaming

Keith Whyte, the executive director of the National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPG), admits much of what he hears about gaming advertisements is “anecdotal,” but that doesn’t mean it is inconsequential. Real people struggling with gambling addiction are reporting real feelings and unease.

“A lot of recovering gamblers we talk to, they feel saturated,” Whyte said of gaming advertising in the still-blooming sports betting states. “They feel carpet-bombed. They can’t watch sports any more, and it’s all over social media. It’s never been harder for someone in America to stay in recovery for a gambling problem.”

And if the effect is that severe, or has the potential to be that severe, what can be done to mitigate that for those struggling?

“A couple of the operators have ads out that strictly talk about responsible gaming,” said Dan Hartman, the director of the Colorado Division of Gaming. “I think that’s got to be a mix, but … let’s talk about having one [phone]  number — one thing that goes on that screen about responsible gaming or problem gaming. Right now, on a national ad, somebody has to look at a whole paragraph of stuff and try to figure out what they’re supposed to do in the state they’re in.”

But as far as regulatory action, Hartman is apprehensive and would rather the operators take steps themselves.

“I think it would be very difficult to regulate ads, because you have national ads and local ads, and all of that,” he said. “The worst nightmare that anybody has is that we do have to step in and regulate it. Everyone needs to be part of the conversation — responsible gaming folks, regulators, and operators.”

The positives of sportsbook ads

Those involved in the regulation of gaming in Colorado are cognizant of the negative effects repeated advertisements can have, but they also point to a significant positive — moving sports betting action away from the “black market.” The more customers converted from illegal local gambling or offshore markets, the better.

“It’s not the same as nicotine products or marijuana ad limits,” Garnett said. “It’s not like that. I’m in a monitor position, but there’s a good reason for ads, too. You’re eliminating the black market with that customer acquisition [due to the ads].”

“When you talk about all the ads, you can go a lot of different ways on it,” Hartman added. “You can say, ‘Would we have built the same kind of program, would we have been as successful moving people out of the black market without this kind of thing?’ We’ve moved an awful lot of people, faster than we thought, out of the black market and into the legal market, and that’s a good thing.”

Learning from DFS, and when ads will wane

The surge in ads across all sports betting states is not occurring in a vacuum. There is a fairly recent, similar case with daily fantasy sports (DFS).

Remember the inescapable DraftKings and FanDuel ads a few years back when DFS was a hot new commodity? Now think of how often you saw DFS ads in 2021. Part of the decline, probably, is because sports betting is filling much of that void.

 

The consensus is the sports betting advertising barrage will wane. It’s just a matter of how long that will take.

“I’ve always believed that once the market starts to mature, you’ll see a natural decrease in ads,” Garnett said. “But it’s been slower than I thought, because some of the bigger operators are starting to get going [in Colorado]. … As these bigger folks are getting into it, it’s going to take a little longer for that to mature.”

With relatively new operators in the Colorado market, there is also a question of fairness. If sports betting ads were limited, that might not harm those already established in the state, but it would have an impact on those trying to break in.

“When we started 18 months ago, those folks had a lot of ads, but there weren’t as many operators,” said Hartman, who also indicated operators will likely migrate over time to more targeted marketing efforts, such as through email. “Now, when a new operator comes on, do you say, ‘You can’t advertise like the other ones did’? Then you’re changing the playing field.

“It has to work its way through. We have casino ads intermixed with that, too, so you really have a lot of gaming [ads]. But it’s going to reach a plateau, it’s going to come down, and it’s going to level out.”

But when it will level out is hard to predict, and Whyte warns of another curve.

“With the newness of [sports betting], advertising spend will probably go down, and we’ll become more accustomed to it,” Whyte said. “But there’s a famous [principle]  in addiction study: When a new product is introduced, there’s a steep increase in problems — then it will drop and level off, maybe close to the original rate or maybe a little higher.

“But the problem is, nobody knows how steep that curve is, and nobody knows what the peak is and what it will go down to.”

Photo: David Wallace: USA Today

Jeremy Balan has been a journalist, editor, and sports writer since 2007. After years covering prep, college, and pro sports for online and print media, he focused on turf writing at BloodHorse from 2015-2019 and won an Eclipse Award for his coverage of the devastating fire at San Luis Rey Training Center. Contact Jeremy on Twitter (@jeremybalan) or through email at jbalan@bettercollective.com.

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